Tuesday, July 14, 2009

NREGA SAGA-Times of India exposes truth

There is a flip side to NREGS hike too-Times of India

There is a flip side to NREGS hike too

NAGPUR: A 55% increase in wages under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) may hit the farmers of Vidarbha, mainly the cotton cash crop belt of western Vidarbha, where decreasing returns and rising debts from farming have led to thousands of farmers committing suicide in the last decade.

The substantial increase in wages under NREGS from Rs 60 per day to Rs 100 now is expected to result in shortage of daily wage labourers for the farm sector, farm activists said. "The NREGS wage rate will be too attractive for labourers in the countryside who will prefer it to slogging in the fields in the current kharif season. Small farmers who find the occupation too risky and even loss-making may give it up and report for NREGS work instead," said farm activist and Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti president Kishore Tiwari on Tuesday.

In major cash crops of cotton and sugarcane, farm labour is essential right from sowing to regular weeding operation. "Naturally, farm labour will now use the NREGS rate as bargaining point and demand more. Till last season these workers were getting around Rs 60 per day," Tiwari pointed out.

"While it is good that the worker will be paid more in NREGS and now also at the farms, the flip side of the rural job scheme will be increase in input cost of the farmer. With labour bill going up, the distressed cotton farmer's income will take a further dip," Tiwari explained.

"In several areas of the state, NREGS wages serve as the benchmark for farm labourers for negotiating a better payment from farmers. But farmers won't be in a position now to pay more than Rs 100," said Shetkari Sanghatana leader Vijay Jawandhiya. He has now demanded that the Commission for Agriculture Costs and Prices, under the Union agriculture ministry, should now raise the minimum support price (MSP) for all agriculture produce to offset the loss farmers would incur on account of this.

According to Jawandhiya and Tiwari, cheap foodgrains schemes especially for BPL category, though essential to ensure food security, were also creating problems. "A week's labour is enough for a farm labour in the BPL group to earn enough money that can buy his month's grain supply. Once he stocks it up, the worker is then reluctant to go for hard day's labour and while away his time and indulging in vices like drinking and gambling ," said Tiwari. "In such times, a farmer has a tough time finding farm hands in crucial Kharif season in Vidarbha."

NREGS: The truth is in the lies- Sunil Warrier,Times of India

Printed from

NREGS: The truth is in the lies

PANDHARKAWDA (Yavatmal district): As we prepared to turn back to Nagpur after visiting three villages in this suicide capital of Maharashtra, an agitated voice on the phone of our host prompted us to give it a hearing. A former sarpanch, the voice is now an NCP activist. He was well informed about various government schemes meant for the poor. He had a telling comment to make.

"If the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is implemented the right way, there will be no need for MP and MLAs funds," he said with complete conviction.

Look at the figures: At Rs 2 crore per 543 MP, the allocation comes to Rs 1086 crore (most times this remains underutilized). In his budget, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has increased the NREGA allocation by 144% and it's now Rs 39,100 crore.

Had all the money been put to use, there would perhaps been no rickety roads in India. Not every road can be a Mumbai-Pune Expressway but certainly it would have connected many remote and inaccessible villages and brought them on the national motor map. Hidden somewhere between the humongous figures are some lies and half-truths about the UPA's flagship scheme that was meant to provide employment and minimum wage of Rs 100 per day for at least 100 days in a year.

We deliberately chose villages around Pandharkawda. At the height of the agrarian crisis last year, this district created maximum farmer widows. Jalka, where Rahul Gandhi's Kalavati stays, and Sonkhas, where Shashikala resides, is just round the corner. We also deliberately chose not to visit these two villages.

At Mandoli, we encountered Bhimrao Atram creating an embankment to prevent water from gushing into the agricultural fields. The village, largely comprising the Kollam tribe, is Atram's sasural. No, he hasn't heard of the complicated acronym N-R-E-G-S. He is content earning between Rs 65 and Rs 90 per day from the farm owners. He manages to keep his family of four (wife and three children) sufficiently well fed.

However, his neighbours have. Some have paid Rs 100 to get the brochure-looking impeccably maintained registration book which allows you to fill in many details but is strangely blank. The truth: "Who do I approach for the job?" "What kind of jobs are available?" "Are jobs available at all?" "No, I didn't try asking for any job." "There was no publicity about the scheme." From blatant ignorance to utter disregard.

Next stop Wanzari, a little beyond Mandoli. Only a few elders are present as most are working as farmhands. A village elder informs that village and government officials had publicised the scheme. "Many enrolled but only a few sought work when they came to know that largely it involved breaking down stones. Youngsters, though illiterate, want to have fun and not perform hard labour," he said. "Moreover, work under the scheme should be undertaken when we are not working in the farms. If we have work in the farms who will go seeking other work?"

A lady interrupted saying she had actually got work under the scheme. She worked exactly for a day and is still awaiting payment for it.

"Most government officials do not give publicity to the scheme as they want to show that labour is not easily available," said Kishor Tiwari, convenor of the NGO, Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, which is working for the cause of the farmers. "By doing so they are able to complete projects hiring machines which are owned by politicians and are lying around in large numbers."

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